Toronto Education Workers Local 4400 (TEW) is made up of approximately 17,000 education workers working primarily within the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). TEW is also home to childcare workers from various childcare centres and caretakers from Viamonde French Board, representing over 400 job classifications and over 1,000 worksites.
Case Study Highlights
Started The Working Mind Training: 2018
Leaders Trained So Far: 900+
The TDSB is the largest and one of the most diverse school boards in Canada, serving approximately 247,000 students in 583 schools throughout Toronto, and more than 130,000 life-long learners in their adult and continuing education programs.
Mental Health in the Workplace
TEW members are constantly providing help and support to others and face a range of mental health challenges, including the stigma surrounding mental health in the workplace. However, these generous individuals often fail to take their own mental health into account.
Thankfully, the TDSB has taken a very active role in promoting mental health resources to its employees. For instance, beginning in 2018, it began offering the opportunity for employees to take The Working Mind (TWM) training. Likewise, TEW has also championed mental health to its members. Cherill Hiebert and Mara Boedo, both Executive Officers for TEW and employees of the TDSB, have been mental health advocates for over 30 years.
Fifteen years ago, Hiebert and Boedo began offering training and resources through the Members’ Action Centre/Toronto Education Workers.
“This Centre covers everything: assistance with emotional effects of job loss, mental health resources, and other free resources in the community, whether it’s mental health, financial difficulties, or finding employment. We have hundreds and hundreds of free resources for members, and we love to share them,” Hiebert explained. Through the Members’ Action Centre, Hiebert and Boedo have seen a steady increase in the number of members that have come to them with stress and mental health challenges.
“We were very fortunate to get funding that allowed for the training of facilitators to deliver The Working Mind,” Hiebert said.
The Working Mind is an evidence-based program designed to promote mental health and reduce the stigma around mental illness in the workplace by proving participants with tools to assess their own mental health, identify signs and symptoms, and develop healthy coping strategies.
Both Hiebert and Boedo are certified facilitators of The Working Mind for TEW and TDSB, and together have helped train close to 1,000 employees.
“We trained as Facilitators, advocated and began actively promoting The Working Mind in all our Members’ Action Centre Workshops,” Hiebert explained. “Recognizing the need to promote The Working Mind even further, we created promotional materials to promote and advertise it to our 17,000 members.”
Boedo shared that her passion for this work came from the realization that in the past there wasn’t much mental health support, and she vowed to take action. “When I became a Facilitator, I realized it was the best decision of my life. It gave me the power to understand what happened with me and what I could do about it,” she said. “Now I feel empowered to teach and show anyone that they are not alone. I have tools and I have the experience. This has helped me open a whole new life for myself and to help people understand that they can do it too.”
Hiebert and Boedo have continued to work diligently to find new ways to help their fellow union members address mental health issues and offer resources to ensure members have the necessary tools.
Why We Train Our Leaders in The Working Mind
Hiebert and Boedo have both benefited from taking care of their mental health and understand the importance of mental health support for TEW members. They also stress the crucial need for members to take care of themselves before they take care of others.
As Facilitators, Hiebert and Boedo recognize one the keys to their success is how passionate they are about the course and the participants. They explained that once participants register, they contact them multiple times, via email, phone, and text messages, to remind them about the workshop. This approach is designed to put participants at ease, to let them know what they can expect, and to increase participation. Boedo said, “For us, it’s not just another person registering for a course – it’s an opportunity to change a life.”
“As Education Workers, we work to educate Canada’s future generations,” Boedo reflected. “This means that every positive change that we can help our members to make will impact the students in their care. And this will stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Boedo continued: “We are not only changing people’s lives, but we are learning to change the way we approach the situations that are outside our control.”
Training in TWM has helped Hiebert and Boedo to recognize the importance of teaching others about the little steps anyone can take to improve their mental well-being, rather than waiting until it deteriorates to the point they need professional help. Both spoke about the power of the real-life stories they hear in TWM training about the challenges people have faced but also the inspiring stories of recovery participants have shared.
That said, delivering mental health training and hearing stories about other people’s mental health challenges can be difficult. Another key to their success as Facilitators is the care Hiebert and Boedo have for each other. When they are having a bad day, they support each other.
Hiebert and Boedo stressed that no one should be afraid to share their personal mental health experiences.
Results and Feedback
The Working Mind Facilitators at TEW have seen an increase in member engagement since the rollout of TWM.
“Our participants are very open to sharing, and our workshop feedback has been very positive,” Hiebert said. “Participants continue to contact us with words of appreciation about how this workshop has impacted their lives.”
Hiebert and Boedo shared that they had received very emotional emails from members explaining that the workshop saved their life, allowed them to stop and slow down, and then reach out to get the help they needed.
Hiebert shared a powerful story of the impact TWM training had on one individual: “This person took our program and now they are well on the road to recovery. Their family doctor commented ‘what are you doing differently?’, and she said, ‘I have a new vision for myself.’”
Hiebert continued, “To me, that was the most powerful thing I have heard because without TWM she would have had no vision, because she had no hope. She didn’t know where to go to for help, and I said the only place you need to go to for help is right here.”
In their ongoing commitment to the success of the program, the TEW established a Working Mind Committee, where their Facilitators come together monthly to discuss workshops and issues that have come up in the previous month, and to brainstorm solutions, including how to increase participation in the program.
What the Future Holds
Hiebert and Boedo believe their repeated advocacy for mental health and well-being has been essential to their success. They have no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“Both the Toronto Education Workers Local 4400 and the Toronto District School Board have made mental health a priority issue and are working together to make this happen for support staff through The Working Mind, the Employee and Family Assistance Program, and many other Mental Health and Wellness initiatives,” shared Hiebert.
When asked what the future holds for The Working Mind training with TEW and TDSB, Boedo’s passion for helping others was clear: “I don’t ever want to stop. When we finish educating our 17,000 members, we will continue training new members joining our union. We can’t talk about our well-being without also addressing our mental health.”